After initially estimating the value of a business, that estimate may be adjusted upward (premium) or downward (discount) to reflect other factors related to the ownership interest in question. For example, a controlling interest in a business is worth more on a per-share basis than a minority interest, as the holder of a controlling interest has authority over business decisions, whereas the minority interest holder does not. This section briefly examines some common premiums and discounts. 1
Business valuations typically begin with a base value, using techniques applicable to a broad range of businesses. A premium or discount is an upward or downward adjustment to this base value, to reflect some different characteristics of the particular business being considered. These characteristics are reflected in various ways. If one uses a discounted cash flow approach to valuation, a higher or lower discount rate could reflect the special characteristics. Alternatively, the analyst could adjust the initial valuation estimate upward or downward for specific features of the business. Knowing how to identify and quantify premiums and discounts is one of the specific skills of a business valuation expert. The following situations can increase or decrease the discount premium:
- Control premium: The buyer acquires a controlling interest—usually defined as more than 50% of the voting power—in the acquired company. Because of all the powers a controlling owner has, a controlling ownership interest is clearly worth more than a noncontrolling interest. These premiums can be in the 30–50% range.
- Minority interest discount: A minority interest discount, also known as a discount for lack of control, is the logical opposite of a control premium. If the ability to exercise control commands a premium, the lack of that ability is worth less.
- Strategic acquisition premium: Sometimes the acquisition of a business may be important from a strategic perspective. For example, an acquisition may complement the existing product line, broadening the geographic market, ensure a source of supply, or eliminate a key competitor, for a specific buyer.
- Lack-of-marketability discount: Publicly traded equity shares have a high degree of liquidity—they can be readily converted into cash at close to prevailing prices. Because investors value liquidity, a negative factor exists when the investor lacks the ability to sell on short notice at a market price. Studies report that thinly traded stocks realized a 30–50% price decline when the brokerage firm that was their sole market-maker went out of business. 2 Studies of restricted stock of public companies that itself cannot be publicly traded find discounts for the lack of marketability ranging from about 20% to 70%. 3 Ownership interests in nonpublic companies almost always are discounted for the lack of marketability.
- Key person discount: Some acquisitions include an arrangement for the key person(s) to join the new company for a period of time. In other cases, the key persons do not accompany the acquisition, perhaps due to death or retirement. When the key person does not continue with the business, attributes such as the loyalty of customers, suppliers, or employees may be lost, as well as the key person’s particular business skills. Research studies and court cases find the key person discount to typically be in the range of 5–10% in public companies, and 10–25% in private companies. 4
Discounts may be applied to base business valuations for factors other than those described earlier. One possibility is a discount for contingent liabilities, reflecting potential future claims resulting from past business activities that will become the responsibility of a buyer. Such contingent liabilities involve potential litigation such as product liability, potential environmental claims, or potential tax adjustments for prior years. Because these liabilities are situation-specific, the valuation analyst must look sharply for them!
The above discussion indicates that discounts are more frequent than premiums. After achieving a base valuation, the analyst considers adjustments for the various factors discussed above. Note that the impact of these factors can be incorporated into the base analysis—for example, by adjusting the estimates of future income or cash flows—or can be reflected as an adjustment to the base value calculation. However incorporated into the business valuation analysis, discounts can have a large effect on the ultimate value.